Archive November 2018 XIX, No. 11

The High Risks of High-Touch Surfaces

How do you assess cleanliness when a visually clean item can still harbor contamination?

Weston "Hank" Balch

Weston "Hank" Balch, CRCST, CIS, CHL


PREVENTING PATHOGEN TRANSMISSION Surface disinfection is key to maintaining a contamination-free environment.

The stainless steel surface is so clean you can see your reflection in it. But an invisible danger remains: infectious microbes lying in wait to contaminate the next item they touch and transmit dangerous infections to the next patient you treat.

Yes, “visually clean” high-touch surfaces can harbor contamination. Look around at your high-touch surfaces: keyboards, touchscreens, light switches, phone, bed rails, the over-bed table, call buttons and patient care equipment. Even the OR floor. If they appear to be clean, they might not be.

“These surfaces are of high concern because surfaces that are in closer proximity to an infected patient have the highest probability of becoming contaminated by the patient shedding virus or bacteria,” says Christine Greene, MPH, PhD, principal research investigator in contamination control at NSF International.

A 2011 study found that of the 80% of high-touch surfaces that passed visual assessment, only 19% were found to be microbiologically clean (Ferreira et al., 2011). Another study found that of the 82% percent of the surfaces that passed visual inspection, only 30% were found to be microbiologically clean (Griffith et al., 2000). Common organisms found on theses surfaces include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), Acinetobacter baumannii and Clostridium difficile, to name just a few.

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